Jan 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Jarrett makes a speech after being inducted into the NASCAR hall of fame during the induction ceremony at NASCAR Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte won’t be among the 43 drivers to take the green flag for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, but all three of them know how it feels to win in NASCAR at the Brickyard and know what that yard of bricks at the start/finish line tastes like.
As a matter-of-fact, Jarrett started the tradition of kissing the bricks with his first of two Brickyard 400 wins in 1996. He also won the race in 1999. Between Jarrett’s two victories came a Brickyard win for Rudd in 1997. Labonte was the 2000 Brickyard 400 winner.
Earlier this week, the three drivers participated in a NASCAR teleconference for a trip down Brickyard 400 memory lane. Here’s the transcript:
Q. First, for Dale Jarrett. You made kissing the bricks a tradition at the Brickyard. Tell us how you got the idea and what it’s like now to see every Brickyard 400 winner do the same.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, it’s something I would like to take all the credit for. But it was something that Todd Parrott and I talked about doing something if we were fortunate enough to be able to win at the Brickyard. So it’s something we discussed.
To be quite honest, when I got into Victory Lane, I had kind of totally forgot about it. It wasn’t on my mind. I was enjoying being in a Victory Lane that I’d seen so many great champions be there and be a part of. I was just enjoying the scenery, so to speak.
Todd grabbed me and said, Hey, remember what we talked about. It wasn’t until then that I remembered that we were going to do something a little different. We hadn’t told any of the crew or anything like that. So we just told them to follow us and went out and had our time on the yard of bricks.
It’s pretty cool now to see that every race winner and their teams, of course it’s a lot more orchestrated now than what it was at that time because we took everybody by surprise. But to even see the guys that win the Indy 500 go out and be a part of it, it’s pretty cool to know you started a tradition that will probably carry on for a long time.
Q. Dale, ESPN is kicking off its NASCAR coverage this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Talk a little bit about what we can expect over the next few weeks from you and the ESPN NASCAR team.
DALE JARRETT: We’re really excited to be back onboard with the Cup Series. Most weekends, whenever the Nationwide and the Cup are there, we’ll do both, as we will this weekend.
To look at the Cup Series, how exciting it’s been to this point this year, to know how everyone’s kind of looking at things a little bit differently. Winning has always been at the forefront of everyone’s mind when you go every single week. Now it’s a little bit more important to put yourself in that position or at least be part of the game to get yourself solidified to be a part of the Chase.
I think we’re ready to cover the stories of the race, but also as a side note to look at what is transpiring as far as the Chase goes.
I mentioned this morning on our ESPN call that I think these next three weekends offer great opportunities to add someone that hasn’t won yet. We’ve seen over the last couple of years when Ryan Newman won last year then a few years ago when Paul Menard won. This is usually a track you see your championship-caliber and championship-ready teams perform at their highest level. That has happened more often than not. But this does lend itself to an opportunity for someone that hasn’t won this year that’s very competitive to put themselves this that position and possibly in Victory Lane, which then would put them in the Chase. Pocono a lot the same way, then Watkins Glen after that.
We’re excited to be back onboard. Even though it’s our last year, these next 17 weeks are going to be special. We have different cameras that will show different things along the way, especially the pits, something we used at Chicago in the Nationwide race, showing pit stops.
A lot of good things, a lot of excited people. We’re really looking forward to covering this first Chase scenario. Kicking off at the Brickyard is always exciting.
Q. Ricky, the Brickyard has long been considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewels. You won the event in 1997. In your mind, does that win rise to the top as one of if not the biggest wins of your career?
RICKY RUDD: For me it’s definitely the biggest win of my career. I was never fortunate enough to be able to win at Daytona. I’d probably put them in that order, Daytona out front. Right in there would be Indy. If I wasn’t able to win Daytona, at least I got Indy.
It meant a lot to me. Just my original kind of the way I got started in go-karting, I was originally looking to go IndyCar racing. It didn’t work out at the time. Then to be able to have the fortune to be able to win there, that was a big day, a big day that I’ll remember for probably the rest of my life.
Q. And Bobby, your Brickyard 400 win came in 2000, a hugely successful year for you, capped off with a series championship. How crucial was the momentum of that Brickyard win in the pursuit of the series title?
BOBBY LABONTE: It seemed like that was kind of the trend for a lot of guys for a few years. It seemed like if you won the Brickyard, you ended up winning the championship. Some of it was for sure, some of it didn’t happen.
We definitely had what we felt like was momentum on our side. Just that race there and being able to win it with our guys, we were on a roll. That just really boosted our confidence up more than we ever could imagine.
We thought we were riding pretty high. But winning that race, it’s so special. Kind of like Ricky said, Daytona you kind of put first, then the Brickyard is probably second. When we left that evening, I mean, I just felt so good. Definitely I think it propelled us to the rest of the season to win the championship that year because, yeah, I mean, went up there and had a great day and were able to win, just be in Victory Lane, experience everything that we dreamt about.
For all the guys, it was a lot of fun. We just really pushed ourselves forward. Probably didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it, it definitely pushed ourselves towards our championship year.
Q. Dale, you won it twice and have had a really great career throughout, then to the booth. What would be your best advice to this year’s class of Sprint Cup rookies who are racing that traditional Brickyard as part of their Sprint Cup learning curve? What would be your best advice for them?
DALE JARRETT: I think the biggest thing would be to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity they have to race at Indy Motor Speedway.
I wonder sometimes do some of the younger guys, because of their age and all they’ve ever known is that we race at Indy, the Sprint Cup Series, now the Nationwide Series, but there was a time that many of us never had the idea of being in NASCAR that we would have that chance to do that. So appreciate it, enjoy it, get the most that you can out of it.
But what they’re going to face, in my opinion, is the most difficult racetrack they’re ever going to race on. I think that maybe Bobby and Ricky would tell you the same thing. Because you race on nothing like it, have heavy stockcars that have a lot of horsepower, tires that are more narrow than what the IndyCars and others run there, it makes it just difficult as a driver to negotiate this racetrack. Learn as much as you possibly can, get as many laps as you can in practice because, again, there’s nothing like it.
But enjoy it as much as anything. It’s fantastic to race there. Just being able to get a good finish and visit Victory Lane is obviously the ultimate. They’re going to face the toughest three days they’ve seen at a racetrack. I would advise them to go to, whether it’s their teammates that have been there more, veterans that maybe they’re friends with, to get a little advice.
We were fortunate, Bobby and Ricky and myself, to have a lot of times we were able to go there and test there as a group. Pretty much every team used to go there and spend two to three days. That gave us a lot of track time.
With the testing rules, they don’t have that opportunity as much. It makes it for more of a difficult learning curve for them.
Q. Walking into the Brickyard, does it give you the same goosebumps that a traditional track like Daytona gives you when you go in there?
DALE JARRETT: There’s no doubt. Whichever tunnel you go in to go into this place, it’s definitely a different feeling. They’d get that. I would advise getting there a little early because your emotions can take over.
One thing they’re going to find out, too, they get to race day, they see the stands are filled with fans, it becomes a different-looking place. It takes a little bit to adapt to that. I remember being there the first time in ’94. We’d done our practicing and everything. Even though there was a large group there for qualifying, when we got there on race day, down the front straightaway, it looked like a place that had been narrowed by two or three grooves. It was unbelievable.
Q. Dale and Ricky, actually I wanted to ask you about qualifying, when 86 cars showed up. Was it as hectic in real life as it seems it must have been on paper?
RICKY RUDD: To me it was. It had a lot of people concerned about making the race, people that would normally make the race. Obviously at that time the provisional spots were laid out a little bit differently. There were quite a few Indy teams that put stockcars there for the first time. Never been in stockcar races but fielded a car for the first Brickyard 400.
It was a little intimidating knowing how much pressure was on qualifying. Definitely it wasn’t just about a starting place, it was about making the race. A lot of guys were concerned.
I’d have to go back to I was fortunate enough to be one of the few. Dale, I don’t know Bobby was driving back when Goodyear had a tire test at Indy, some four, five years prior to that first year. It took them four, five years to put the logistics to make a race actually happen.
I would say I was probably more nervous in that Goodyear test four or five years prior to the first official race than I actually was when the event came there the first time.
DALE JARRETT: I was very nervous at the race ’cause I was one of those having to make the race on time at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don’t remember the specifics of provisionals and things like that, but we didn’t have that. I had to make the race on time.
I’ll be quite honest. I was as nervous in qualifying as I’d ever been. I wanted to be a part of that first Brickyard 400. To be quite honest, I think it’s probably the most loose and out of control I ever drove in a qualifying lap that I didn’t crash. But we made it and that was important.
It was just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders whenever we ran the time. Ended up somewhere around 10th or 12th, something like that. It was tremendous, but the pressure was immense.
Q. Bobby, that was your second full-time year in the circuit. Do you remember what it was like?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, I mean, I know I went there for the tire test, like Ricky said. I did take a bus around there when we ran the Nationwide cars at IRP. I kind of got my lap in through a bus. We did the test up there in ’94, then went back for the race.
It’s amazing, kind of like what Dale said, when rookies come in there, I was there the other day for the Goodyear tire test as well, I still get little goosebumps when you go in there even now.
I remember the first several times going in there, intimidation by the yellow shirt guys, intimidation by the racetrack, intimidation by can you make the race, where are you going to qualify. It’s a different mindset going there a lot of times than some other places.
Yeah, going up there and qualifying the first time with that many cars, there were cars everywhere. Just like Dale said, that one lap of qualifying is so hard there because all four corners are different. You can be good in two and bad in three, good in three and bad in one corner, lose so much time, it’s so difficult.
But anyway, I mean, it’s still kind of nerve-wracking just up until at this point in time. Very special place and very intimidating when you step foot in there as we all did, especially when everybody goes there the first, second, third time. Not that we’ve been racing there 20 years now, rookies come in today. Kind of like what Dale said, we never thought we’d ever get there. Going around in the bus when I was in the Nationwide race, we had time to tour the museum, we thought that was as close as we were going to get to it at that time.
Q. Dale, certainly we’ve seen the dominance of the Hendrick engines, how Penske has done lately with horsepower. At Indy horsepower is a key. People bring their greatest engines to gauge where they are for the Chase. How much of a telltale sign can Indy be for the Chase? If a team is off on horsepower a little bit, what kind of challenge do they face before the Chase?
DALE JARRETT: That’s a good question and something that I’ve been talking about. Even though I’ve been at the Nationwide races and at the tracks, I’ve gone over into the Cup garage to get a feel and watch. You can kind of tell what’s going on.
Yeah, certainly the Hendrick horsepower and the Chevrolet, they are on top of it. Childress I think has stepped their program up. You can tell in their performance and through qualifying that they’re a little bit better. The Chevrolet engine seems to be right there. They’ve got a little something on everyone.
But don’t count Doug Yates out. He doesn’t like being second to anyone, anything. I think we’ve seen the 2 and the 22 be beneficiaries of that. Certainly Carl has won a couple of times, but they haven’t been on these type tracks as good even though they’ve got the same engines as what the Penske cars have.
But Brad and Joey have figured things out. Doug Yates always had something a little bit more when it came time for Indy. That was a lot of my success there, Ernie’s, everyone over there the years. I think Ricky can attest to that, too. We always had plenty of horsepower when it came to that.
But I think the one organization or one group that’s going to be hurting a little bit are the Toyotas. I think they’ve been behind. I think it’s a significant amount that they’re behind. I know that they were looking towards the Brickyard as trying to up things a little bit to try to get a little bit more power. But that’s a huge gamble, too. As we all know, anytime that you start trying to make more power, you’re sacrificing a little bit of reliability somewhere along the way to make that power work.
Trying to make up a horsepower difference is very difficult. You can find yourself taking chances and getting yourself in trouble. The one thing they may be able to do in that respect is possibly look at a fuel mileage situation that might allow them to do things a little bit differently on pit road. But that makes it difficult to catch up and do that.
I think that’s a perfect example of why Chevrolet has been dominant at this racetrack recently. These Fords will have to step up. I think it will be the Penske Fords that will have a chance to do it.
I’ll give you all a question. I think maybe in ’97 when Ricky won, wasn’t it Ricky, Bobby and myself that finished one, two, three in that race. Y’all probably know more about that than I do.
RICKY RUDD: I think it was.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, that’s right.
Q. Ricky, if you could talk about your win and the fuel mileage gamble, how you got set on that path. Was that something preplanned or something as the race progressed?
RICKY RUDD: I think our situation as the race progressed, we had a good car that day. I remember qualifying, seventh is where we qualified. We had some issues going on. We hung around the top five somewhere, but were never a factor or led any laps until the late stages of the race.
What happened during those days, the aero push was so bad, if you had a winning car, but if you were caught back in 10th or 12th place, you had a hard time crawling to the front.
That particular day what the fuel mileage allowed us to do was we were able to get near to the front of the race with 10 or 15 laps to go. We needed tires, but we knew how big of a deal, because we were back in 10th, 7th, ran there all the day, saw how difficult it was to get to the front.
Other teams were able to do it, they just elected to put tires on instead of staying out on older tires. It allowed us to basically stay on the track and have track position when the restart took place. The race was on.
As a matter of fact, I remember I was talking to Bobby about a week or two ago, he chased me the last 10 laps. I was never so scared that that green car he was driving was going to run us down and catch us. We were able to maintain the lead and win the race.
Fuel mileage basically put us in a position to capitalize. I think you’ll see the same thing today. If you can have track position late race, hard to say because the tires are different now, but I would almost weigh that as a plus against changing tires late in the race.
Q. Not only do you have wins at the Brickyard, but you have also won and had success at Pocono. Those two races have always been right there together on the schedule. Can each of you talk a little bit about what is it about the two tracks, the similarities, that allows drivers who are successful at one to run successful at the other.
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I ran really bad at Pocono for a long time until my engineer Derek Jones tried something a little different. I forget, we finished fourth. I remember saying, I don’t even know how to get to the gas pumps. I’ve never finished this high before.
But Pocono and Indy are so similar, at least they were at that time. I think they still are very similar setup-wise, even though they drive differently, the racetracks are configured obviously differently. I think it’s a lot of the same, long straightaway, tight corner, long straightaway, tight corner type of scenario.
The setup, once they found something that I liked, ’cause I wasn’t able to do it with a lot of different things, but once we found something we liked, we hit upon it, we started running good at Pocono and Indy over and over and over again. It just came down to what I liked in my car, what made it go fast, too. Obviously we got it down to the ground. At that point in time everybody was trying to figure out how to get it there. Once we did that, those two tracks, when you hit the combination at one it lended to the other because they are similar in a lot of ways with the speeds, corners and such. They drive differently, but the same setup was working good for both places.
That kind of helped me get better at both tracks once we figured that out. That made you race better at both of them, qualify better at both of them. If that makes any sense to you, that’s kind of what happened for me.
RICKY RUDD: To add to what Bobby said, I think what he said, I can relate to it very well. I’ve always thought the two tracks compared. Probably the biggest thing at Pocono is turn two, the tunnel turn, then turn three coming on the front straightaway. They were very flat unlike turn one at Pocono. To me those corners, it’s hard to go back and look who ran good at those Cup races. Whoever runs those two corners at Pocono is going to be very good at Indy because to me those corners always were very similar. Indy and Pocono shared those corners alike.
A little bit different, but a lot of similarities. Just flat track, fast racing. Gosh, I’m not up to date like probably Bobby or Dale has kept up with it a little bit more as far as what they’re doing these days. It’s going to be who can run the corners and who has the power to jump down the straightaway.
DALE JARRETT: I agree with everything they’ve said. We always looked at turns two and three. I would have to think that now, since Pocono has been repaved, is a much smoother racetrack, there’s even more you could take from there.
Obviously horsepower. Look at either one of them with the long straightaways. The other key is momentum through those tight corners. You can have all the horsepower in the world, but if you’re going down there and have to slam on the brakes to get your car turned, you’re slowing down too much, you’re not going to be able to take advantage and make a pass off the exit of those four distinct corners you have at Indy. That makes a big difference in making that work. The same at Pocono.
Now that they have the no ride height rule, I think we’re going to see a more competitive race at Indy because of that. I think it’s still, obviously as we’ve seen every week, it’s important to be out front to maximize your aerodynamics, but I think it’s also going to allow you to make some passes that maybe we haven’t seen in a long time.
Ricky talked about how we used to get such an aero push. These cars now, a little bit different. As they get the nose tucked up under there, they get a little bit loose by what they tell me. I think this is going to allow them to be more competitive.
But the two are similar and if you do well at one I think it certainly helps, as Bobby was pointing out, to be able to do well at the other.
Q. Dale, it’s your last race in the booth for ESPN at Indianapolis. What has been the biggest difference you’ve noticed as a broadcaster instead of being in the racecar?
DALE JARRETT: My mistakes in the booth hurt a lot less. I can tell you that. That’s the biggest thing.
I’ve seen a different side of the sport is probably I think that’s biggest. I could probably go to the booth every week and just look at the race and talk about it and do okay. But I think to be prepared and do as good a job and give as much information as I possibly can is about getting in the garage area, talking, staying up to date.
It’s been a little over seven years since I’ve been in a car. I still want to know what’s going on. Even though driving a racecar is going to be similar regardless, you’re giving it your best effort. As things change, you want to keep up with that.
That’s been the thing, is to see the sport from a different side. I really believe that I would have been a better person towards maybe the media and more appreciative of the effort that’s put forth by the TV partners in bringing the race to the fans if I would have understood everything it takes to put one of these races on.
I was going to say a big race like Indy, but we bring tons of people, over 150 people, for ESPN to all of these next 17 races. It takes tremendously talented people there to do that, to bring a good product to the fans watching on TV, just like it does to have a good race team and organization.
It takes all of that. We at ESPN have a tremendous group.
It’s been fun to learn something new and to look at the sport in a different way. It’s always a challenge. Just like driving, I tried to get better with every race. I’ve done that here in the booth, too.
It’s going to be unfortunate that it’s kind of my last time at Indy. But I’m going to look forward to that. Each and every week we’ll be that. We’re going to make the most of these 17 weeks.
Q. Bobby, what is your main goal going into the race if you make it on Sunday?
BOBBY LABONTE: The big thing for Tommy is he’s wanting to start at 13. Got a lot of great crew members he wants to try out, get that ball rolling. Anytime you start a team or you want to accelerate your program, as you’re moving forward, hopefully moving up, you put people in positions that they might not have been in before. You hope that you can look back after the race is over and say, You know what, if we’re going to do the third team, hope that he does for him, he’s got some good people in place, two or three people here, then he can build on that.
It’s just building his operation up. Anyway, I’m trying to help him out, get to that point. Hopefully he can get to that point one day with a third team like he wants to get to. If it works out for him, I wish him all the luck.
Q. When you guys were in the Brickyard 400, what was your first impression when you took your first lap?
BOBBY LABONTE: It’s kind of like I think Ricky said it, maybe Dale said it earlier, it’s one thing, it’s so weird. Turn one, it’s like tunnel vision. When the grandstands get full, they’re full the first day of practice anyway, race day they’re full, it takes awhile to get adjusted to it.
It’s just kind of surreal in a way going out there, when we went out there the very first time in practice. I think the first time I went up there, I have to say this story, I don’t remember where I qualified, but Bill Elliott was right beside me. We rode around in the car before the race started, waving to the fans. Halfway around, Bill said, Have you ever seen anything like this before? No, I haven’t, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
I was obviously a rookie or two years into it. Here is Bill that’s been around, won races, championships, he’s looking at it from that point of view as well. That kind of puts it into perspective of how important it was to understand everything about it that you see.
The nervousness when you first get there, when we got there for the first practice, I thought it was pretty electrifying to me. Terrifying and electrifying. But it was a lot of fun. Looking back on it, really enjoyable.
With Bill thinking the same thing, I thought that was pretty cool, as well.
RICKY RUDD: I was going to pretty much add a little bit to that because that was my impression, how big is this. You had the feeling it was something special the first time you were in there. It was kind of weird. You could feel it in the air the first time we showed up. It didn’t feel like going to a normal Cup race like Daytona. It felt special because I think all of us sort of felt like we were invited guests. It wasn’t our place. We felt very comfortable being there, but we also had the feeling, at least I did, guys I talked to, you almost felt like you were just a guest, sort of under the microscope to make sure that we were worthy of being there.
The cars we were going to race that day, they would race close enough, put on a good enough show. The ultimate measuring stick was the Indy 500. I think once everybody got over the fact you had the Indy 500, one set of rules, a different set of cars, not trying to compete one-on-one with the Indy 500, which we didn’t do that. We just went in there and it was our stockcar race, it wasn’t the Indy 500, yet it was a big event to be there.
I just remember I think a lot of the nervousness probably came from the pressure of wanting to do well there, not necessarily for yourself, but just uphold the dignity of the stockcar crowd.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, it was a special feeling. I think at the beginning, as Ricky was pointing out, it’s so big, I found myself maybe not paying attention as much as I should. Once I started to be able to do that, then I came to realize just how different each of those four corners were.
You look at it from an aerial shot or watching the Indy 500, it all looks like that each one of them were pretty much the same. Once you got on the racetrack, you realized just how different turn one was, the entry, as going into turn three. They couldn’t be more different really in the approach and the way you go about them.
Then the same way as you set up to go into turn two and exit onto the back straightaway. The same was true at turn four, because it’s different as to what you needed to do.
I think understanding that and being able to relate your information to your crew to do well and know as a driver what you needed in your car at those places is what you needed to learn. So it was a tremendous experience.
Q. When you won your respective races, when you hoisted the trophy, did it make you realize that you were at the same place that IndyCar racers had their glorious moments at?
RICKY RUDD: I can just say it was a special win for me. It was a different feeling when you won that race than other races that I’ve won. I don’t know how to put it into words. It was a different feeling in a good way.
When the race was over, one of the things we did, I don’t know if you guys did this, I didn’t know Dale was the one that started the tradition of kissing the bricks, I thought that was an Indy tradition they did back at the turn of the century. That’s pretty cool. But we did that, that was pretty neat.
After the race, everything was sort of winding down. To me, my wife Linda, they ride you around in that convertible. The crowd was still in the stands. It was a little bit after Victory Lane. They ride you around in that convertible. It was just cool to top off the day to be able to make that final lap and ride around in that pace car sitting up on the back waving to the fans. A special way the race was ended, the victory in Victory Lane.
DALE JARRETT: I would agree 100%. Before we went to kiss the bricks there in ’96, I didn’t want to leave Victory Lane just thinking about the people that had been there before me. Certainly in the Indy 500, but there were already a young guy obviously in Jeff winning the first one, then Earnhardt winning the second one, two of our sport’s biggest stars. To follow them there.
But that ride around in the convertible after that it was just simply amazing. That was just incredible. In 1996 I remember Kelly and I and Todd Parrott and his wife sitting there and taking all of this in.
It gives me chills right now sitting here talking about it, but just remembering that and how special that was.
BOBBY LABONTE: I’ll say I agree to all that. My side as well, they did the pace car in 2000 as we rode around. Like Ricky said, people are still there. It’s amazing. They do an interview with you while you’re waving around. We’re just in la-la land because it’s amazing how they treat you throughout. It’s a Sunday afternoon. We were home by 11:30 that night. The next year, the next year, the next year, they recognized you in a lot of ways as you are on the trophy with so many other people who won at that track, I think you guys will agree, no different than this conference call, I didn’t think this was coming. This is special to me, special to y’all, to be recognized as the winners of this.
I think I told somebody, I said, It’s the win that keeps coming. You haven’t been forgotten. So that’s really cool. That night, that convertible riding around, Victory Lane, kissing the bricks. I’ll just put it this way. I don’t have many trophies in my house, there’s like two, and one is the Brickyard trophy. Kind of shows you where I put that, if that makes sense to you.
Q. Dale, there’s no question how the drivers feel about this race in Indianapolis. We’ve heard it all week. In 20 years only half as many people show up to watch the race now. I don’t know if it’s the novelty has worn off, what happened in ’08, the general pull-back in NASCAR. Maybe it’s all of the above. Why do you think that is?
DALE JARRETT: I think ’08 had a big effect on it. There’s no doubt. That day unfortunately for the drivers, the teams, for our series, NASCAR racing, was a day that certainly wasn’t taken very well, especially by the fans.
They came to see a race, what they saw were caution flags every 10 to 12 laps. That’s not what you want to see.
I think it hasn’t recovered from that in that time. So along that same time then, thereabouts, then and for a few years after that, the economy was so bad that I think that had a big hand in it.
People, they don’t tend to forget those things as quickly. So when the expenses have gone up to travel, be a part of it, they think back on that, I think they’re a little more reluctant.
I hope maybe it will start to recover some, but we’re still seeing that our sport does suffer somewhat from the economy. It’s going to take some time to do that.
I think a great race there would go a long way in bringing some of those back. But I think as we’ve seen in other sports, it doesn’t get reported quite as much because when you take a baseball stadium that maybe holds 35,000 to 40,000 people, it’s only half full or a little bit more than that, it doesn’t look as bad as a place like Indy that can accommodate over 200,000 or any of the other tracks that we have that are well over 100,000 and you’re getting 60,000 to 80,000 people there. That looks worse, but the numbers are still there. There’s still a lot of people at these races, but it doesn’t get put in that light because of what it used to be.
It’s going to take some time. But ’08 was certainly a big factor.
Q. I wasn’t born when any of you guys won the Indianapolis race, so I was wondering if each of you could take me through your day, then that initial drive into Victory Lane, the first thought that came to your mind, the overwhelmingness of that day.
RICKY RUDD: As far as the day goes, I’ve gotten so old, I don’t really remember certain things much anymore. I remember how it finished. I remember that part.
I remember the last 10 laps of that race, last 10 or 15 laps after the restart. I can almost run them in my head how that thing wound down, then coming down pit road.
What’s unusual about Indy is you come down pit road, you have fans on the inside, fans on the outside, then you have all the crew members coming out to greet you.
It was just such a big day. I still have visions of that. I was fortunate enough to win a few more races along the way, but none of them seem to stand out in the detail that Indy has.
It’s almost like it was a dream but yet it came true. I just have very vivid recollections of how that thing unwound.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, I have great feelings and emotions for the Brickyard in 2000. It was a great weekend. It’s one of those final practices on Saturday, you sat there and said, I think we got a chance to win it. You always want to win it. I was like, I think we really do this time. Almost down to 25 pounds and one spring, that’s all we wanted to change, we were done.
We had confidence going into the race. We had a great race. I’ll say with Rusty Wallace, he beat me for a little bit, passed him back, beat me a little bit, pass him back. He gave me a shot in turn one, pushed me forward. I looked in the mirror, got smaller and smaller. Thought he got pretty upset. They told me to slow down because we didn’t want a caution flag. I couldn’t believe we were just driving away at the Brickyard 400.
The thing I remember the most about it is that weekend my brother couldn’t drive because of injuries he had like three weeks before that at Daytona. Thought he could get through it. Todd Bodine ended up driving his car. I remember in practice sitting in the car. Gary DeHart comes over to me and said, Your brother can’t drive. We took off running to the trailer. Terry, his vision, he couldn’t focus down the straightaway. He had like an inner ear problem, right? So it’s like, I mean, we all just sat there and three gentlemen cried. Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening. This is my brother. We race. That’s all we do, right?
So after the race is over, winning the race, I come down pit road, the first person to the car is my brother. I’ll get choked up if I talk too much about it. He came to my car. He wasn’t driving. That’s the first time I remember him not driving. You know what I mean? As great as it was on the racetrack side of it, when I got to pit road it was like, Oh, wow, this is kind of hitting me differently. You know what I mean?
Anyway, I’ll never forget that. I kind of want to forget that, but I’ll never forget that moment.
Obviously getting into Victory Lane with all of our sponsors and everything. The two sides of the story is the victory and Terry not being able to run that race. But sticking around was great, and the fact he come over to pit road and was the first one to shake my hand coming down pit road meant more to me than anything.
DALE JARRETT: We all have the stories and feelings of when I won it the first year in ’96, I was racing my teammate Ernie. I wanted so badly to win, but I also knew what this would mean to Robert Yates and his entire family.
I wasn’t going to be able to be overall aggressive as I could have been with somebody else that wasn’t part of our organization being the one right in front of me. As it turned out, Ernie made a slight mistake in turn one, I took advantage of that, able to hold him off till the end.
As I got to Victory Lane to see just what it meant to the people around me, to see Robert and Doug Yates, how hard, knowing their story, how hard they had all worked to get to that moment, for their cars to finish first and second there. They came close to winning that race in ’94. We finished third in ’95 when I was driving the 28 car. To see them be able to get that was just a tremendous feeling for me.
Then to have my family there, my dad was there, my wife, it was a tremendous feeling. But to see the elation on the crews’ face, here they are visiting Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s just a feeling and a sight that never goes away.
I’m like Ricky, there’s a lot of things I have forgotten, but that’s a special day, one you will pretty much remember the entire scenario.
Q. Ricky, you never won the Sprint Cup Series championship. Does the Brickyard 400 title fill that void any?
RICKY RUDD: It does. I’m listening to Bobby and Dale talk. These guys, they got ‘champion’ behind their name which is a tremendous accomplishment. I was never fortunate enough to be able to make that happen.
Those guys, it says a lot for the Brickyard that here they are talking about how much the Brickyard 400 means. I’m not sure about Bobby, but I know Dale has won the Daytona 500 a couple times. To have that good a recollection of how nice Indy was to be able to win it, it makes it pretty good for me.
If someone is going to introduce me in the crowd, they don’t know anything about Cup racing at all, I get introduced, it’s usually Ricky Rudd 1997 Brickyard 400 winner. That’s how I get introduced.
It’s not as good as being introduced as a Cup champion, but it’s the next best thing, so I’ll take it.